With a No. 1 album to his name and as many platinum plaques as Michael Jordan does championship rings, most would think NAV is satisfied with his place in rap, but he doesn’t see it that way. The Canada native won’t relax to the point of giving himself a well-deserved vacation — but he does have reason to be happy that he took one earlier this year to the Turks and Caicos Islands, following some convincing from his manager, CashXO.
NAV’s trip would spawn his latest single, named after the tropical islands, which earned him his highest Billboard Hot 100 entry to date, an impressive top 20 debut at No. 17. The Wheezy-produced “Turks” notched more than 20 million opening week streams, thanks to some help from fellow rap stars Gunna and Travis Scott, as the trendsetting millennial trio reunited for the first time since Scott’s 2018 “YOSEMITE.”
“I’m not going to lie, I knew it would do well, but I didn’t think it would go top 20,” says NAV. “I didn’t think it would go that far.”
The boastful track finds NAV fittingly reminiscing about his first vacation with 20 girls, walking out of Chase with $50,000, and charging $80,000 for a show. The response to it has considerably raised the stakes heading into NAV’s fourth project, which the Punjabi MC expects to be released by June. The still-untitled album will feature a posthumous assist from Pop Smoke, and beats from production heavyweights Mustard and Tay Keith.
Even as the 30-year-old continues to climb hip-hop’s ranks, he knows the IG haters and Twitter trolls are still out there, chomping at the bit to make him their next victim of their social media banter. “I feel like people start hating on me and I don’t know what it is — maybe because of my race or something,” an uncertain NAV guesses, pointing to his atypical rap star background. “But I don’t care, and I just keep working.”
Before getting back to playing some more Warzone on Call of Duty, Billboard chopped it up with NAV about crafting “Turks,” the unlikely story that led to him working with Pop Smoke, his back-and-forth with DJ Akademiks, and more.
Billboard: How did the song come together alongside Travis and Gunna?
NAV: Me, Cash [XO], Gunna, and Metro [Boomin’] went on a vacation to the Turks. Originally, I didn’t even want to really go, because I told Cash it was hard for me to relax right now, and I’m focused on making music. I didn’t feel ready for a vacation and I still don’t right now.
They got me to change my mind, and I went a day later [than everyone else]. I pulled up and he had Metro’s engineer there so we could record. Cash played me some beats while I was bored, and he was like, “Why don’t you go record on these?” I recorded three songs, and when we were just chilling after, Gunna really liked that one, so he hopped on it.
When we got back to the States, he showed it to Travis, and Travis wanted to be on it too. I’m glad I went, but I still don’t feel ready for my own vacation. I feel like my vacation would have no manager, and just be me and my people.
What about the video, where you guys headed to a military base?
Cash and Zac [Facts] were in charge of all that stuff. I pretty much just woke up really early in the morning and pulled up to this military base, and then I saw like 30 girls holding assault rifles. I’m still rubbing the crust out of my eyes from sleeping, and a director comes and asks me if I wanted to fire an AK-47 on set. I’m like, “Yeah, give me two of them!”
What can you tell us about the new album coming?
I’m working on it right now and I’m trying to hand it in soon so we can get it out in the next month or two. I’m just over here trying to top the best song. No title yet, because me and Cash are still deciding on it.
I heard you’re going to have a Pop Smoke feature on there. Can you speak to your relationship with him?
I’ve only been around him once or twice. I remember when “Welcome to the Party” was going crazy, and all my friends on the East Coast were telling me about it and playing it on tour. He was at Poppy in L.A. one night and I was there with Abel. He was performing “Welcome to the Party” — and nobody really knew the song, but he saw that we were f–king with him in our section, and he saluted us. A couple weeks after that, everyone in L.A. knew his song. He blew up right in front of our eyes.
It’s crazy — one day, he just walked into the studio with one of my buddies. I was actually tired and s–t and pretty much done recording, but we managed to bang out two more songs. That night he told me, “I want to do a song that’s your vibe.” I played him some s–t, and he got on that song. I told him, “I want to do a song that’s your vibe.” I’ve never done that drill beat kind of s–t. I feel like it’s so fun and there are so many options of how to flow on that kind of beat.
It was fun for me making [“Wolves”]. I didn’t expect him to die a couple weeks later.
What’s your quarantine situation been like? I see you’ve been playing Call of Duty tournaments and giving back.
I’m a gamer, naturally. I got invited by [NBA star] Ben Simmons and the FaZe guys to play. It’s crazy how we can play video games now to give back. I saw someone the other day that wanted to buy a PS4 and I told them, “If you haven’t been playing video games the last five years, don’t even buy a system.” It’s not even fun anymore, every game has become competitive with people playing at the highest level.
Do you play in game chat and talk some s–t, or do you keep to yourself on the mic?
I play with people I kind of know, like gamers and stuff, but the only time I’ll talk to randoms is in 2k because I’ll see them begging me to come into game chat. So I’ll go in game chat and they’ll start going crazy. They know it’s me, because I look exactly the same in that game.
We saw you have a little back-and-forth with DJ Akademiks at the top of the year. He made a post congratulating you on “Turks” this week saying he’s “not a hater.” Have you talked to him?
I didn’t even think it was that big of a deal. When I tweeted what I did at the start of it, I was just high in my living room discussing that stuff with a couple of friends, and I put it out. I didn’t think he was going to go so crazy. Now [he] went from a fan to kind of hating — it’s kind of weird. There’s obviously underlying hate in there. It’s like what Nipsey [Hussle] said when he was alive [about Akademiks], “What does he really do for the culture?” He just posts people’s wins or their losses. He doesn’t really do much for the culture.
Was that your high school yearbook picture that he used in there?
Yeah, I find it kind of racist the way he misspelled my name on purpose. It’s funny how people let that s–t slide, but it’s cool.
Do instances like that inspire you to keep going and fuel you in the studio?
It’s not really fuel, but I smile when I keep getting W’s, because I’m not going to make sh–tier music. I’m always going to keep getting better because I’m a music man first. Good luck to him. I’m not going to give up on my producing and DJing to become a reporter. I live the everyday struggle in real life.
On Twitter, you recently thought back to times you lived at home making three beats a day while laying in your bed on Xanax when your future was uncertain. What does it mean to fast-forward to now with the success you’ve had?
I still feel exactly the same. I feel like just as quick as I got this s–t, it could be gone. Even as I get more money, it could all be gone. I don’t know why, but it feels so real that I was sitting at my mom’s crib four or five years ago.
So you’re saying you don’t feel like you’ve made it just yet?
Yeah, a lot of people told me I have. Like when I made my first multi-million dollar check, Cash called me and said, “How do you feel?” I said, “The same. I don’t feel anything different.” He understood because he felt the same. It’s like, what’s next? I could have $15 million in the bank right now, and that doesn’t mean I’d stop trying to be a better artist. I’d still be working as hard.
Did you have a chance to see anything come together with The Weeknd’s After Hours album?
I saw a part of it come together. I remember when he played me “Snowchild,” that was my favorite song. When the album came out, I was praying he put it on there, but I didn’t even know it was called “Snowchild.” It’s a very relatable song.
Are you still bowling a lot these days?
Yeah, I just got my own bowling ball. I got to use it once before everything shut down. I was telling everyone that I wish I bought a house with lanes in the crib. That’s what I’m going to do next year.
Is it still $80,000 for a show like you reference on “Turks?”
I don’t know. I think the price may have went up since then.